14 Best Practices in Scanning and Digitizing Legal Documents

legal document scanners

The exponential increase in legal discovery requirements and documentation has driven law firms and corporate legal departments to migrate from paper-based record-keeping to electronic document management systems. While digitization helps increase efficiency and accessibility, simply scanning documents is insufficient. Implementing structured protocols optimizes searchability, security compliance, and long-term preservation.

Follow these 14 best practices for building an effective system to reliably consolidate your vital paper records into easily accessible and future-proof digital repositories.

1. Prioritize quality scanning hardware

Skimping on your scanner may save money upfront but cost you downstream in productivity or even legal exposure. When scanning sensitive client records and correspondence, clarity and detail are imperative. Invest in enterprise-grade legal document scanners with:

  • At least 300 DPI resolution capacity for capturing small print without pixelation
  • Advanced image processing for clarity
  • Double-feed detection to prevent missing pages
  • Large feed tray capacity and high page-per-minute speeds for efficiency

2. Use black and white whenever possible

Color scanning creates massive file sizes compared to black and white. As color texture and gradation are rarely essential in legal documents, default to grayscale or black and white to optimize document rendering speeds and conserve storage space. Reserve color only for specific documents like medical illustrations or those with original highlighted areas.

3. Convert scans to searchable PDF format

Simple image-based scans can’t be keyword-searched, critically limiting their internal discovery value. Optical character recognition (OCR) software extracts printed text into machine-encoded text that can be searched. Whatever native scanning software your device uses, be sure to have advanced OCR capability and apply it to every file, converting scans into indexed, searchable PDFs.

4. Implement a consistent file naming taxonomy

Instead of generic names like “Scan 1,” use a file naming system that embeds critical metadata right in the title—including date, type of document, client/matter names or numbers, and keywords. This makes finding files in your document management system far easier with search filters. Name consistently across all document types for organizational cohesion.

5. Categorize and tag extensively

Proper classifications are the backbone of any document database. Set up a formal taxonomy tailored to your practice—litigation, transactional matters, client records, administrative—with extensive subcategories and descriptive tags. Apply multiple categories and keywords to each file to maximize search paths to rapidly pinpoint files.

6. Control access with logins, passwords and encryption

Your digital repository likely contains protected client information like Social Security numbers, medical records, or confidential business transactions. Implement access controls like mandatory logins, two-factor authentication, and user permission presets to limit exposure as required by privacy laws or organizational policies. For sensitive materials, add an extra layer of security by encrypting contents to prevent data breaches.

Digitizing Legal Documents

7. Retain both paper and electronic records

While digitization can minimize paper, most state laws mandate retaining the originals of certain vital documents. Maintain both paper and electronic records according to statutory, regulatory, and organizational retention schedules. Safely store paper documents onsite and scan new files promptly into the document management system until they can be destroyed per policy.

8. Set up multi-stage quality control checks

Rushed scanning leads to errors like missing pages or cut-off text that undermine record integrity. Build consistent quality control reviews into your digitization workflow at both the scanning/indexing stage and before documents are formally committed to long-term storage. Leverage visual dashboards and exception reports to monitor for problems like incomplete OCR conversion.

9. Standardize workflows for each document type

Standardized digitization protocols minimize human decision variability that can result in inconsistencies or oversights. Based on features like needed image enhancements, file naming conventions, or access controls, establish structured workflows tailored to each document type—client onboarding, correspondence, discovery demands, and more. Integrate reminders into workflows to meet key targets.

10. Install fail-safe network and backup redundancy

Unlike paper records, your entire firm’s information capital could be wiped out by events like fires, natural disasters, network outages, or cybercrime. Create redundancy both on and offsite by maintaining real-time and secure backup servers. Also, routinely copy your entire document repository to redundant cloud-based digital storage for easy restoration wherever you have an internet connection.

11. Proactively future-proof your records

Your digitized records may need reliable accessibility for decades—across updates to servers, backup media, operating systems, and application software. When upgrading infrastructure components, always ensure continued compatibility with existing database and file formats to avoid software lock-in issues. Evaluate migration needs proactively before legacy systems become obsolete.

12. Automate updates and security patching

Your document management hardware and software components will require continuous upgrades and security patches. Rather than relying on manual reminders, implement automated systems to identify and push updates across the various elements—scanners, servers, OCR apps—as needed transparently behind the scenes. This minimizes holes in protection that could expose confidential customer data.

13. Assign responsibility and track performance metrics

Good technology is still reliant on solid execution. Designate a digital document management administrator responsible for monitoring the overall performance of the system—accuracy of OCR, missing files, policy compliance, and more. Establish quantifiable benchmarks and metrics to meet based on factors like backlog volume, archival duration, etc. Review regularly for process improvements.

14. Train staff extensively in digitization protocols

Lackadaisical staff is your weakest link. Document management isn’t IT’s duty alone but an organization-wide responsibility. Provide regular interactive training across legal teams, secretaries, and clerks—with refresher courses—and teach best practices in scanning, naming, access restrictions, backups, and other protocols pertinent to roles. Instill the habit of diligence until digitization discipline becomes second nature.

The takeaway

By comprehensively addressing every facet of document scanning and archiving—from robust scanning tools to structured role responsibilities—law firms and corporate legal teams can finally tame their ever-escalating paperwork burden. Use the blueprint provided by these 14 best practices to construct an institutional-grade digital repository that secures vital information while increasing daily efficiency, protecting both client interests, as well as organizational success into the future.

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